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Friday, 11 November 1927

Senator FINDLEY (Victoria) . -Day by day and in every way our case against the Government is becoming stronger. Honorable senators are under an obligation to discharge their duty to the people of this country to the best of their ability, and it can hardly be suggested that they are acting fairly in even contemplating the disposal of our shipping Line in the absence of a tittle of evidence to justify it. If it had not been for the vigilance of certain journalists, the members of this Parliament and the country generally might still have been ignorant of the Government's intention to sell the Line. The Public Accounts Committee, upon the report of which it is said that the Government is acting, is composed of members of Parliament. They are our representatives, and I assert that the information which is available to them should not be denied to us. The people of Australia, including the members of this Parliament and the members of the joint committee, are shareholders in this Line, and have paid their proportion of the cost of establishing and operating it. Surely the nine members of the committee do not suggest that they, to the exclusion of every other citizen, are entitled to keep to themselves the information which their inquiries elicited. Is it a business proposition that nine members of a committee appointed by this Parliament should take evidence , in, camera, and that no matter what their verdict may be we must accept it? We are told by Senator Kingsmill, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, that the evidence, upon which the committee has recommended the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, was taken in camera. In fairness to the people of Australia the committee should have been instructed to hold its investigations in public. If business is to be conducted in that way in the future, goodness knows where Parliament will land itself.

Senator Reid - By legislation we can alter the conditions under which the Public Accounts Committee takes its evidence.

Senator FINDLEY - When the investigation of the Commonwealth Government's shipping activities commenced, did honorable senators understand that the evidence would be taken in camera, that the witnesses would be given a guarantee of absolute protection, and that none of their evidence would be printed?

Senator Reid - There is nothing new in that.

SenatorFINDLEY. - The Public Accounts Committee has never previously had a matter of such importance to investigate. Even in regard to works involving no considerable expenditure, the evidence given before the Public Works Committee is printed, and can be perused by any one. Do honorable senators agree without a protest to the Public Accounts Committee acting as it has done in this case? If this precedent Ave are now setting up is established in regard to matters of Government policy we may have in future a committee taking evidence in camera, which evidence may later be considered at a party meeting held in camera. A decision may be come to on information which may be of importance to the people, but which may not be made known to them. Lastnight I had occasion to visit another place. I heard the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) reading startling and sen sational cablegrams, which I am sure no honorable senator, with the exception of those privileged few who were entitled to get what we are denied - special and confidential information - knew had passed between the Prime Minister and Mr. Larkin, and between Mr. Larkin and the Prime Minister. To me it seems that the longer this matter is delayed, the better for the majority of the people of Australia. We want to be supplied with the most complete information, not merely the evidence given before the Public Accounts Committee, but more uptodate evidence. With that information at our disposal we could come to a decision and give a considered vote on the matter before us to-day. Although honorable senators opposite do not believe in the Labour policy, I know that some of them would hesitate before doing that which they conscientiously believe to be wrong. If they give serious thought to this matter they must come to the conclusion that no harm can be done to the people by agreeing to Senator Duncan's amendment.

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